Friday, September 30, 2005

Teach, Father, Teach

Another awesome homily by my former spiritual director, Fr. Paul Beach, for Sun Sept 25:

Homily for Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 25, 2005

A little more than a year ago, the past Holy Father, Pope John Paul II declared this year the "year of the Eucharist." He asked that pastors spend time talking about the importance of the Eucharist to the Catholic faith. The second Vatican Council referred to the Eucharist as the "source and summit" of our faith, and so it seems that, since this is such an important topic, we should spend some time reflecting on the meaning of our regular participation in the Mass.

Many years ago Bishop Maloney was celebrating a special Mass for the seminarians and he said something in his sermon that has remained with me all these years. He stated that every day, regardless of what else he may have said or done, so long as he celebrated the Mass it was a successful day.

In the four years now that I have been a priest, I have had the opportunity to celebrate Mass hundreds of times. In the great basilicas of Rome and in other, more humble settings. At Funerals, at weddings, weekday Masses, Sunday Masses. Masses where a thousand are present, or where I am the only one. No matter the place or the circumstance, each of these opportunities has had something in common: Christ’s presence.

Having been a priest for over four years now, I can echo these words of Bishop Maloney. The Mass is the most significant thing that we can do in our entire lives. Bishop, priest, or laity, celebrating the Eucharist is the highlight of our life. For every time we celebrate the Mass we come into contact with the very Body and Blood - the very presence - of our Lord and Savior. Every time we cross the threshold of the doors into this building we are crossing the threshold of paradise, for in the Mass we receive a glimpse into heaven. St. Alphonsus Liguori once said that: "if we were to truly recognize what we participate in at every Mass, then we would die of fright at the awesome mystery."

If this is the case, then how sad it truly is that so many of our fellow Catholics no longer believe in Christ’s presence. The Eucharist offers us direct access to our God, who comes to nourish and sustain us in this life… how sad it is that many people fail to recognize this opportunity.

We must question ourselves as well. How much do I appreciate this most incredible gift? We who live in this country have such easy access to the Eucharist. Every day of the week, there are literally dozens of Masses taking place within relatively few miles of our homes. There are many people in our world today who do not have such easy access to the Mass. Some of them must walk for hours on foot to get there only once a week. Some don’t even have the opportunity to go but once every month or two months.

I recall the story of a young man I got to know in my time in seminary. St. Mary’s in Baltimore participated in a program sponsored by the National Bishop’s Conference, whereby seminarians from other parts of the world are invited to come and study. Through this program I had the opportunity to meet many men from third world nations, even nations where the Church is still officially persecuted. One of these men was from a country where the Church is still underground and celebrating the Mass there remains an illegal act. I still remember how anxious he was to return home and be Ordained a priest. I recall how my Ordination and first Mass was a time of celebration and receptions, his was to be done in secret for fear of being arrested. Yet how anxious he was to return to his home and offer the Sacraments to the people.

So why was this? I imagine that his first Mass was attended probably by only a few people. There would have been no beautiful music or vestments to enhance the Mass. I’m sure that they didn’t even have a reception afterwards.

The answer must be that he recognized the true wonder it is to be able to make Christ present in such a tangible way, especially in a part of the world so desperate for God’s presence. Dear brothers and sisters: do we too realize what we participate in here? If so, how well do our actions here in this church reflect that?

We live in a society that is concerned with immediate gratification, and is entertainment driven. Almost every minute of our lives is driven by the idea of what am I going to gain by doing this or that. I get impatient if the microwave takes two minutes to heat my meal rather than one. I turn on the TV and expect immediate entertainment. If we don’t find it then there are 500 other channels to turn to. I want what I want when I want it. It is only natural then that we would be tempted to apply these same principles to our faith as well and come here to this church seeking these same things. Listen to the complaints of those who no longer practice their faith. Oftentimes you will hear people say that they are "bored" when they come to Mass. What’s worse, they say that they "don’t get anything out of the Mass." They complain about the music, the bad preaching, the ugly artwork, or whatever else that keeps them from "enjoying themselves." And they are right! Church choirs miss the occasional note, there are plenty of churches filled with ugly things, and this isn’t the best sermon I’ve ever heard.

We must remind ourselves, brothers and sisters, that we are not here to be entertained. We are not here to feel good. We are here first and foremost to offer worship to the Living God. We are here first and foremost to give ourselves completely to the Father, in imitation of Christ Himself, who in this holy sacrifice gives all that He has: body, blood, soul, and divinity. Our new Holy Father, Benedict, in his many writings on the liturgy, has constantly reminded us that our worship’s true purpose is fulfilled when we first orient ourselves towards God.

Sadly, we see how oftentimes in the past forty or so years the temptation has been to place the emphasis of the Church’s worship upon ourselves. Song after song has been composed during this time that concentrates solely upon us, the congregation. Sadly, priest after priest, and countless "worship committees," have seen fit to alter the Church’s liturgy, somehow thinking that they can "improve upon it." To conform the liturgy to ourselves, rather than accepting the challenge to conform ourselves to the liturgy. These efforts have helped lead us to the erroneous assumption that the Mass is first and foremost about me, when in fact it is about God. This being the case, it is easier to understand people’s criticism that the Mass has become boring: for this is precisely so if the Mass is only about me. For most people can be intrigued only for so long by merely staring at themselves. The fruit of this attitude has been in helping to bring about an atmosphere of idolatry in our worship. The people of Moses’ time falsely erected a golden calf, we must not do the same.

We must evaluate what it is we come here seeking. Is it entertainment? Go to the theater or the movies. Is it to hear what a great person I am? Go to group therapy. Is it to hear great music performed flawlessly? Go to a concert. But if you are here first and foremost to give yourself to God; to humbly kneel and bow down before the one who made you, then we are in the perfect place.

Fr. Paul Beach

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